The other night, my wife Peggy and I were involved with friends from church in a conversation about borders. The question arose, because of immigration problems that have arisen throughout the world because of climate change and U.S. wars. I’m talking about the conflicts our government initiated in Central America during the 1980s, as well as the most recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, not to mention miscellaneous dronings, and the drug war in Mexico. Every one of those debacles has created thousands of refugees.
During our discussion of borders, the question became, “What would Jesus say about them?” Surely, we can’t just ignore demarcations between countries, can we?”
My response is, “Actually, we can. Not only that, but we have done so repeatedly.” In fact, when you think about it, borders turn out to be completely arbitrary, and the rich ignore them all the time. Only the rest of us are naïve enough to believe that lines on a map are somehow sacrosanct. It’s all a scam by the 1% to keep the world’s majority in line by creating captive labor forces.
Besides that, Jesus himself and the moral thrust of the Jewish tradition he represented by no means held borders inviolable when it came to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
Here’s what I mean:
Borders Are Arbitrary
In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.
The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.
But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.
Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.
In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista — a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.
Nevertheless, 170 years later, U.S. presidents like Biden and Trump want to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by laws and a wall to enforce this relatively new line of separation. The argument seems to be that borders are holy, have always been there, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about our rich confreres’ attitude towards the new lines drawn.
The Rich Disregard Borders
Fact is: The rich routinely disrespect borders in two principal ways, one juridically “legal” and the other completely otherwise.
For starters, so-called “legal” border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts. The agreements exclude input from the huge populations of farmers, workers, and indigenous populations directly affected by the pacts in question.
In other words, workers (who are just as much a part of the capitalist equation as their employers) enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries create a captive labor force and prevent labor from imitating the rich by serving its own economic interests — by emigrating to wherever economic advantage dictates.
Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard operative here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission. That in large part is what we’re witnessing in immigration problems at our own borders and across the world’s map.
The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people they deem “terrorists” wherever and whenever they’re found, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations themselves as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless — for the rich.
Jesus & Borders
As for the attitude of Jesus towards borders? We don’t have to guess. The Bible’s main thrust centralizes the question. The basic moral injunction of the Jewish Testament is to welcome the stranger, along with caring for widows and orphans.
As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus is presented in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25) as doubling down on that traditional Hebrew command. I’m talking about the only description of the “last judgment” in the entire Christian Testament. There, Jesus is depicted as saying to people who sacralize borders, “Depart from me you cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . for I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”
Those are strong, strong words depicted as coming from”the Prince of Peace” and the one often remembered as “meek and mild.” At the very least, Matthew’s insistence on attributing them to the Master indicates the strength of Jesus’ teaching on the topic at hand. For him, it seems that borders were by no means sacrosanct in the face of human need.
The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?